Android App Review – Layar

App Name Layar Layar
Price Free
App Availability Android Market or the Developer version at

This is one of the apps with really cool possibilities.  You can overlay any geographic information on the augmented reality display.  There are layers for Wikipedia, Qype, Google’s “Local Search”, Flickr, Hotels, Mazda dealerships, Brightkite, Twitter, and even International Architecture.

As an application, it’s really easy to use and well designed.  My only problem was not knowing how to find new Layers.  Which was eventually resolved when I realised that from the “Layers” view, you can search for them in the Search tab.

As a concept, I think we’re only starting to scratch the surface.  Imagine a bus service, where you can search see what busses are arriving from where, and at at what time.  Or a movie service where you can search and see where around you a certain movie is showing.  Then click on the location and book your ticket.

Festivals, sporting, music, and cultural events could be greatly augmented by technologies like this.  You have a load of people who aren’t usually in an area, and applications that help you find a place to eat, or see where spontaneous events are happening “real time” will be great tools to organise people and, for businesses, being visible on those applications would stand a chance to get a load of customers.

I’m quite excited to see where “Augmented Reality” applications are going to end up and if they’re as open (developers can use the Layar API to provide their own layers for the application) and well built as Layar, I think there’s going to be some awesome innovation.


Overview of Open Market

Open Market is SUPER easy to use.  Start the app, pick a category, view details on an app, read comments, rate it, and download the app.  A few clicks and it’s all done.  The screenshots below are just a quick overview of how it looks

Splash Screen Store List Application Details
SpashScreen Stores - Page 1 FBook - Page 1
Terms & Conditions / Download Rating an App Reporting an App
FBook - TandC Rate and Comment Report

It’s really that simple.  But what Apps can you get?  Well, here’s a few samples:

Facebook (Communication)

FBook - Web App This app is apparently a wrapper for the Facebook iPhone site with a few tweaks.  Tabs across the top give you access to most of the common features, upload pics, check your messages, set statuses, comment on wall posts, etc.  Pretty slick, although the “Chat” tab seemed to not work so well for me.  It also has the ability to post notifications to you using the android notification bar.  So if you get a new Facebook message, you’ll get a notification and can read it right away.

Twitter – via Twitli (Communication)

Twitli Of the twitter apps in the Open Market this is one of the best.  Unfortunately Twidroid (one of the better known twitter apps for Android) is not prepared to make their app available to people who don’t have the Android Market, but Twitli is a pretty great client.  It certainly beats the client I had on my old Windows Mobile phone. Very easy to read tweets, reply, post your tweets. Even lets you take a picture and upload it.  Small, simple, and functional.

Barcode Scanner (User Contributions – Applications)

barcodescanner This is basically just Google’s ZXing application.  It’s a GREAT barcode scanner, can do all sorts of barcodes and interprets them.  This is often used by other applications to scan barcodes for them, and if you look at a lot of android app sites, you’ll see that they often put a link and a barcode next to each product so that you can quickly scan the barcode instead of having to type in a really long url to get to the app from your phone.  Currently not the flashiest application on the market, but it has some nice uses.

AndExplorer (Productivity)

For the Geek in you, there’s a file explorer – lets you copy, move, delete, edit, open, etc files on the device.

Notepad (Productivity)

A very simple notepad for keeping any quick notes you need to write down.  Its a really simple UI, but then there’s not too much required when you’re taking notes.

Shopping List (Productivity)

Shopping ListA pretty simple shopping list app. Really quick to add items to a list and mark them as purchased. Not filled with major functionality, but the font’s and buttons are easy to use one handed while pushing a shopping cart and looking for the best deal on Organic Soaps.  For a scatterbrain like myself this is a super useful application.

Quickpedia (Reference)

Quickpedia This is a pretty nifty wrapper around Wikipedia.  If you’re not keen on loading up the browser then this might be the best app for you.  It’s “News” tab is a neat view of current news.  The “Nearby” tab is especially interesting, giving you a list of articles about things that are in your current location.  I imagine this could be particularly useful if you’re travelling overseas (or even locally) and want to find out more about a tourist attraction or historical site.


Leaf’s Open Market – My Wishlist

I know I’m supposed to blog about my application but I’ve had some fun with the Leaf Open Market.  I know it’s getting some bad press from some quarters but its not been too bad to me.  They’re facing a hard battle to get some of the developers to support them, but they have a great vision and are making some progress.  This is hopefully going to be a more technical review of the market, with a practical look at it going up tomorrow some time.

I emailed Leaf this weekend and got some info from them.  Apparently some phones initially went out without the Open Market on them, but they’re getting sms’ed by their contract providers to be shown how to install it.  If you don’t have it on your phone, you can go to  I’ve setup to redirect there in case you’re not keen to type out that whole URL on your phone.

I’ve read their press releases and they basically say something along the lines of:

The phones are awesome (true) but a powerful phone is only as powerful as the apps that are on it.  While they come with a load of great apps, more is always better and because of the “open source” nature of the OS and development tools there are LOADS of great apps.  What we need in SA is a market for them, and this is basically what Open Market is about.

So my questions are “Does it live up to all that?”, “Is that all that’s needed in a market?” and “Do I think that this will be enough to convince developers to put their apps on here?”.

My Requirements for a software market.

1. Easy to use

This goes without saying – but it should be quick to load, and unobtrusive.  Needs searching abilities, and good categorisation.  Data going into the app needs to be standardised. (ie. if you allow people to specify what version of the OS an app runs on then keep the possible entries limited – not “Cupcake”, “1.5”, “1.5.0”, and “Newest version”).  It should display the download sizes of the apps.  Needs previews, ratings, comments and decent descriptions.

2. Highlights new apps

If I’m going to visit it every few weeks, a summary of the most recent apps would be essential.  Otherwise I won’t know what the new stuff is and I’ll have a hard time finding the latest apps.

3. Automates updating older apps (and hence displays version numbers easily)

I know a number of developers who would hate to have to build an Auto updater for their apps, so having this built in would be sweet.  It appears that a number of the devs who have put apps on the Android Market rely on this ability and are loathe to build something like this themselves

4. Does not restrict who can buy what

Seriously – why should someone in the UK see one app while someone in SA not?  To be truly a simple solution for a developer it needs to provide an easy single place to distribute your application to as many people as possible.  Providing roadblocks to that purpose is only going to make developers less likely to use the system, which in turn means less applications for your users

5. Provides user feedback on Apps

Ratings, comments, sharing apps with friends – all provides a social interaction.  Extending this beyond the marketplace application is only going to improve your rating.  Let people outside your device access a list of apps for download from your site.  Let them link, and comment, and rate.

6. Provides users some kind of guarantee/trial system for apps

I’m not keen to spend R100 on an app only to have it be a piece of junk.  Trials or 7 day money back guarantee’s are essential.

7. Allows for Paid and Free apps

Some people might code for love, but most of use need some kind of reward at the end of the day.  You need to have a mix of both.

8. Keeps a history of previously bought apps so you can re-download apps again

If I spend R100 on an app and I have to reformat my phone, or get it replaced, I certainly want to be able to access the application again without having to pay.

9. Allows outside apps to link to apps in the installer

Especially with Android where apps can share Intents, it makes a LOT of sense to allow me to link to an app that has intents that I require directly from my App.  If I can create a standard url, then its even better.  I could then link to the app from a standard web page, and have the app market show more info about the application before the user chooses to purchase or install it.

10. Provides user and developer accounts

Without this, there’s no real way for much of the other requirements to be met, but this gives me ways to know who’s saying what about my app, gives me some assurance that if I upload an application, only I can update it.  It allows usage information like “how popular is my app” and it allows users to see what they’ve downloaded and provide the ability to re-download apps that they’ve downloaded/purchased in the past.


I’m going to quote a bit of the slightly paraphrased response from Leaf to my questions:

[We’re releasing] Phase 1 of the website today. This will be the key point of internet interaction, we will over the next [while] release several new features, [hopefully this will include]: Contributor registration, Contributor management console, blogs, forums and then billing.

It seems like leaf’s got most of the main points under control. I’ll go through them quickly again with comments:

Easy to Use So far so good, easy installation, simple to find apps.  But when there’s version numbers of “dunno” and some apps don’t have file sizes, its not ideal.
Highlighting New apps There’s no feature like this right now.
Automates updating older apps Doesn’t do this right now
Does not restrict who can buy what As far as I’ve seen its Vodacom only right now, so its not an ideal start, but these are early days still.
Provides user feedback on Apps Sorted
Provides users some kind of guarantee/trial system for apps No paid apps yet, so not yet
Allows for Paid and Free apps Will be done soon
Keeps a history of previously bought apps so you can re-download apps again No paid apps yet, so not yet
Allows outside apps to link to apps in the installer Busy chatting to them about this
Provides user and developer accounts They’re doing it for Developers/Contributors, so makes sense for them to do it for users too.

On the whole that’s a pretty awesome system.  Looks like we’ll be in for a pretty good ride with Android in SA.

Hopefully with a bit of luck the last “red” items there will be sorted out and I’ll be a happy camper. Right now they’re doing pretty darned well as a first major app store that I know of that’s been built by a local company.  I’m seriously hoping for good things from this.